Tue, 03 Aug 2021

Sizing Up the Ravens' Biggest Position Competitions

Baltimore Ravens
24 Jun 2021, 05:25 GMT+10

Clifton Brown

The competition for starting jobs and roster spots is always a major part of training camp.

Here's how the Ravens' top position battles played out so far through OTAs and minicamp:

Offensive Line

Head Coach John Harbaugh called the left guard competition "wide open." Ben Cleveland hopes to win the starting job as a rookie, but the third-round pick is going to be pushed. Ben Powers and Tyre Phillips are also in the running, and the battle will get hot during camp, when the pads come on and the physicality picks up.

"All of those guys have played to a very high level so far," Harbaugh said. "They all look good. Nobody has separated at this point. We don't ask them to separate at this time; training camp is when that will happen. If you like football and you're a real student of the game, you'll be watching that left guard battle during training camp."

The other Week 1 starters on the offensive line look determined. Harbaugh said All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley is on schedule to be ready by the opener following the ankle injury that ended his 2020 season. Bradley Bozeman has been tabbed as the new starting center, and his transition from left guard was in full swing during OTAs and minicamp. The performance of Baltimore's offensive line is critical to their run-heavy attack, and Harbaugh likes the way free agent acquisitions Kevin Zeitler (right guard) and Alejandro Villanueva (right tackle) have adapted quickly to the scheme.

"Watching them play has been a pleasure," Harbaugh said. "They're all ball, all the time - both of those guys. I think they're going to be a formidable tandem on the right side."

However, the battle for backup offensive line roles and roster spots will continue during camp. Phillips and Patrick Mekari have played multiple positions, and that versatility adds to their value as backups. A group that includes Ben Bredeson, Trystan Colon, Michael Schofield and Andre Smith will be looking to solidify their roster place.

No. 3 Tight End

Tight ends are heavily used in Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman's system, and at least five players are competing to be the No. 3 tight end - fifth-round rookie Ben Mason, Josh Oliver, Tony Poljan, Eric Tomlinson and Eli Wolf. Jacob Breeland hasn't really been part of the mix yet, unable to get onto the field while still recovering from a college knee injury.

All of the potential No. 3 tight ends have different strengths and weaknesses as blockers, receivers and special teamers. The competition depends not only how they perform, but on how they would strengthen the 53-man roster while backing up Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle.

Oliver has flashed as a receiver during OTAs and minicamps, while Mason and Poljan are physical players expected to excel once the pads come on. Harbaugh likes the fact he has plenty of choices for the No. 3 tight end, and that so many of them are showing him things.

"I'm not too worried about our tight end situation, they look good out there so far," Harbaugh said.

Wide Receiver

Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and Sammy Watkins are established NFL wide receivers who looked very impressive during OTAs and minicamp, and first-round pick Rashod Bateman was "as advertised" according to Harbaugh, getting open and running routes with precision.

Beyond those three, the competition for playing time and targets runs deep. Devin Duvernay and James Proche II appear more decisive with their rookie seasons behind them. Fourth-round pick Tylan Wallace is an intriguing rookie, and Miles Boykin was consistent throughout offseason workouts.

The Ravens have invested a lot in this position the past few years, and new assistant coaches Tee Martin (wide receivers) and Keith Williams (pass game coordinator) have already begun the process of pushing the group to realize its potential. Watching Lamar Jackson throw to this group, and seeing who excels, is going to be a talking point of camp.

"I feel like it's a talented group, and I'm very excited about what we're capable of achieving," Harbaugh said. "Once training camp starts, you'll probably start to see guys separate."

Backup Cornerbacks

The Ravens have arguably the deepest cornerback group in the league behind Pro Bowl starters Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters and veteran Jimmy Smith. The return of nickel cornerback Tavon Young to mandatory minicamp following knee injury makes the position even deeper.

Anthony Averett is already an established talent, but other young corners will be vying to get on the field. Third-round pick Brandon Stephens, who can also play safety, had an interception during mandatory minicamp. Khalil Dorsey had a strong minicamp playing slot corner, and fifth-round pick Shaun Wade played his best football at Ohio State as a slot corner. Devontae Harris and Chris Westry also made plays at minicamp.

This is a key year for 2019 third-round draft pick Iman Marshall, who has been injured most of his two-year career, and has not returned yet from last year's knee injury. But in a league cornerback play is crucial, the Ravens' depth at corner is something most teams envy, and Harbaugh liked the word "heated" to describe the competition.

"I think that's a good term - heated," Harbaugh said. "I can't wait to watch it play out."

Backup Quarterback

Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley will enter training camp neck-and-neck to win the backup job behind Jackson. There's no guarantee Baltimore will carry three quarterbacks, so there's a lot at stake for both young quarterbacks. Every rep will be important for them, including the ones they get during preseason games against live competition.

"I'm very comfortable with both Trace and Tyler," Quarterback Coach James Urban said. "I'm excited to see where the rest of this offseason goes. I'm excited to see them during the preseason."

Linebackers

Tyus Bowser and veteran Pernell McPhee lead the outside linebackers heading into camp, but which young players will emerge? The free-agent departures of Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakuoe leaves plenty of opportunity for pass rushers to step forward. Rookies Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes are looking to make an immediate impact, and Hayes flashed into the backfield on multiple occasions during minicamp. After setting the FBS record for sacks during his college career, third-year outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson faces a pivotal training camp, needing to prove he can be a consistent pass rusher and player in the NFL.

On the inside, a number of linebackers are vying for snaps opposite Patrick Queen. L.J. Fort has been a reliable veteran with Baltimore, but the Ravens will looking for Malik Harrison, Chris Board to continue to improve.

"[The competition at] linebacker [is for] roles, definitely - who's doing what and how much," Harbaugh said.

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